Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:55pm GMT
* Dissidents say they have refused medical aid
* Say support of Gross is based on human rights
* Both have anti-Fidel Castro tattoos
HAVANA, April 29 (Reuters) - Two obscure Cuban dissidents who sewed
their mouths partially shut and launched a hunger strike a month ago
said on Friday they were prepared to die for their demands, which
include freedom for jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross and improved human
Vladimir Alejo Miranda, 48, and Angel Enrique Fernandez Rivero, 45, said
they had refused medical aid and would not go to a hospital as their
"Until there's a response in favor of us, of the opposition, in favor of
Mr. Alan Gross, we are not going to lift the strike," Alejo told Reuters
from a bed at his home in the Havana suburbs.
"If we have to give our life for this demand, we are going to give our
lives. We will be a new Orlando Zapata Tamayo," he said, referring to an
imprisoned dissident whose death by hunger strike last year provoked
international condemnation of the Cuban government.
Gross, 61, is serving a 15-year sentence imposed last month by a Cuban
court for helping Cuban opposition groups set up Internet access.
He was in Cuba under a secretive U.S. program aimed at promoting
political change on the communist-led island. He has an appeal of his
sentence pending before Cuba's highest court.
Fernandez said they had taken up Gross' cause "because we are defenders
of human rights, no matter from which country is the person unjustly
jailed in Cuba."
"His only crime was to bring cell phones, computer equipment and laptops
to help Cubans," he said.
Gross' imprisonment has frozen a brief warming in U.S.-Cuba relations
under U.S. President Barack Obama.
Fernandez said they were visited by a lower ranking police officer who
told them Gross was imprisoned because he was a terrorist who was a
descendant of Muslims.
The two men have their mouths crudely sown partially shut, but they can
speak and drink liquids through a straw. They appear weakened and
remained prostrate during the interview.
Alejo's crumbling home in a humble neighborhood is painted with
anti-government political slogans and the men have tattoos proclaiming
former Cuban leader Fidel Castro a murderer.
Fernandez said he was once imprisoned for his tattoo.
Elizardo Sanchez of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights
said his group was prepared to help the two men, but does not support
hunger strikes "except in extreme cases."
He said other Cuban dissidents had not lent their support to the two men
yet because they were not well known and because their demand for Alan
Gross' freedom was not "so attractive" as other causes.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks, Nelson Acosta and Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing
by Paul Simao)